Usain Blog

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The week before last, it was the boys’ sports day at school.

As Isaac is in reception, this was his first ever official sports day (although he did briefly feature in the pre-school version last summer), and in typical Isaac fashion he didn’t want to take part.

Now, when children don’t want to do something, their reactions usually range from eventually accepting the inevitable (‘if you don’t do it, you’ll get into trouble’), to the ever-popular strategy of bawling their fucking eyes out, like that has ever made the slightest bit of difference in the history of parenting.

Isaac, on the other hand, chose to take his protest to the next level – nudity, and he was still stark-bollock naked, screaming on the floor, two minutes before we were due to leave the house.

However, despite the obvious stress and upset this caused, as leaving for the school run always seems to be a rushed affair (I once asked the boys to start getting ready at 6.30am, just to prove my point, and we still ended up forcing shoes on and yanking Isaac’s hair into something remotely resembling a ponytail as we flew out of the door at 8.40am), I was secretly quite pleased with his tantrum.

The reason for this, was that for the first time since Ollie started school in 2014, I was unable to attend sports day myself (due to the fact my already sparse annual leave is rapidly running out), so my mum had driven over to watch Isaac in that morning’s ‘infant sports day’, while my wife was free in the afternoon to watch Ollie in the junior event.

Now, you might think that Isaac throwing a fucking wobbly would be best kept to ourselves, and that I might be embarrassed for my mum to see such behaviour from her youngest grandson; but he always behaves impeccably for her, and I don’t think until that point she had ever truly believed us when we told her (frequently), what a little shitbag he can be – so it was nice for her to see the real Isaac in all his hairy, naked, screaming glory.*

(*when I say ‘hairy’, I do of course mean his long hair, rather than any bodily fur – he’s not that feral).

Had it been solely down to me, I may very well have dragged a completely naked Isaac to school by his ponytail, just to teach him a lesson. Fortunately, however, my mum was more level-headed, and did a far better job of reasoning with him (apparently, in these situations, my tactic of growling ‘put your pants on now, or I will fuck you right up’ is somewhat counter-productive), and we somehow left the house with him not only fully-clothed, but wearing the green t-shirt (his ‘team’ colours) which had kicked off the spat in the first place.

Ok, he wasn’t wearing a hat like the school had requested (it was originally forecast to be gloriously sunny weather), but we had video evidence on my phone of what a little shit he had been right up until the point we left the house, and I was more than happy to show it to his teachers, should any of them dare to question his lack of headwear.

In the end, we arrived at school on time, sent Ollie off to his classroom wearing a red t-shirt in preparation for the afternoon’s events (yes, the boys are in different teams, which has caused many arguments about which is better), and escorted Isaac around to the infant playground before he could change his mind. Here, I left my mum in one of the seats near the start line on the school field, while I gladly handed Isaac over to his teachers (whispering ‘good luck dealing with this today’), before making my escape.

Obviously, I only have my mum’s account of what happened next, as I had to dash to work, but the child who hated the thought of participating in sports day (and who was apparently still sulking as he lined up for his first event), somehow secured two golds and two silvers from the four races he was in. Better still, he scored the most points in reception, and got a high-five from the headmistress for his efforts. You honestly couldn’t make this shit up. Although, the fact that one of those golds was in the dressing-up race, comes as no surprise whatsoever….

 

The thing is, a British school ‘sports day’ is a rather unique experience, particularly when it comes to the definition of what constitutes ‘sport’. It is very rare to encounter a four-year-old child taking part in a recognised Olympic event at their school sports day (although, in fairness, arming the little fuckers with javelins probably wouldn’t be the best idea), and the closest Isaac came to what I would consider a ‘proper’ race, was the 50m dash. Which he came second in.

Instead, sports day usually comprises novelty races, using random items like sacks, beanbags, and the ever-popular egg-and-spoon combo; and these events seldom go according to plan.

The Sack Race

The Idea:  Children run to their sack, which is placed a short distance from the start line, climb into it, then hop/bounce the remainder of the distance to the finish line.

The Reality:  The children somehow change lanes before they even reach their respective sacks, resulting in at least one child so confused and sackless, that they retire from the event in tears. Of the remaining kids, who do at least make it into a sack, more than half will end up flat on their face at some point, meaning they finish the race sobbing too.

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(photo clearly staged, as none of them are crying/bleeding)

The Beanbag Race

The Idea:  Children place a beanbag onto their head, then walk/jog steadily to the finish line, without it falling off.

The Reality:  The beanbag falls off so frequently (on average, every four steps), all the children cheat by holding it firmly in place for the majority of the race.

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Cheating

The Egg and Spoon Race

The Idea:  To walk the course with an egg (or, more commonly, a ping-pong ball for safety reasons) balanced precariously on a spoon.

The Reality:  Some devious little fucker keeps their thumb over the egg to hold it in place, and manages to sprint the entire distance without it ever looking even remotely close to falling off the spoon. No teachers find this in the slightest bit suspicious, despite the fact said child wins the race by at least thirty seconds.

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***

Other popular events include the ‘Dressing-Up Race’, which will usually (and, somewhat inexplicably) require children to adorn themselves in a high-visibility jacket, hard hat and wellington boots by the finish line, with each item of clothing spaced equidistantly throughout the course. Alternative clothing items have been known to include: flowery hats, dresses and long gloves. Sometimes, teachers will throw in the collection of a handbag as the final item, to complete the bizarre ‘elderly-woman-from-the-1950s’ ensemble.

I suppose the rationale behind the unusual choice of outfit, is that it is entertaining for the parents, but it would be more practical to have the children start the race in their pyjamas, before gradually adding items of school uniform by the end of the race. At least this way, it would be good practice for the school run.

Finally, we have the parent races. Here, as if being forced to participate in the dads’ event wasn’t bad enough, you will almost certainly encounter the very worst of fatherhood – the ‘Dickhead Dad’. Sometimes, this turns out to be a father you have chatted with in the playground, and who until that point struck you as a decent bloke; but there is a genetic flaw in a small proportion of the male population, which means they turn into a complete wanker as soon as they are placed into a competitive environment with other dads.

The first type of Dickhead Dad, is the guy who pretends to be reluctant to take part in the race, only to eventually ‘give in’, before stripping down to expensive running gear and a pair of spikes. He then wins the race comfortably, before claiming he ‘hasn’t run in years’.

The second – and even worse – type of Dickhead Dad, is the moron who clearly has no intention of winning, or even trying to win, and only takes part in the race because he thinks it is funny to trip up, or push over, as many other men as possible. There is a special place in hell reserved for people like this – and, in hindsight, it is perhaps a good thing primary schools don’t tend to feature a javelin event, otherwise people like me might find themselves imprisoned for impaling someone up the arse with one.

Thanks for reading x

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Billy Blog Hat

One of my strongest memories of primary school (well, other than hating it for the first term, and being forced to wear the shittest uniform in the history of primary school education – it was predominantly brown and yellow with, rather inexplicably, a huge eagle on the front of the jumper), was learning to read via the ‘Roger Red Hat’ series of books.

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Bizarrely, most of what I learned at high school and university has since evaporated from my brain (presumably because it was of little practical use), and nowadays I struggle to remember events from the week before, but I can still clearly recall that the books featured Roger Red Hat, Billy Blue Hat, and Jonny and Jennifer Yellow Hat (who I think were twins), and they all lived in the ‘village with three corners’.

In fact, having just checked online, it turns out the series was known as ‘One, Two, Three and Away’ (which rings no bells, whatsoever), and other than the fact Jonny is actually spelt ‘Johnny’, I was pretty much spot on – even down to the fact he and Jennifer were twins. Just look at the state of them:

Initial reactions:

  • Roger is an overly-dramatic, beret-wearing tosser;
  • Billy needs to stop the hillside manspreading;
  • Johnny should rethink his wardrobe, as the ‘off-the-shoulder dungarees’ look is just sooooo Deliverance

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I have to say, I don’t remember Percy Green, who is mentioned as a fifth character in the series, but what has really surprised me, looking through the list of books apparently released over four decades, was the number of truly disturbing titles available:

  1. Jennifer Yellow-Hat and Mr Brown’s Goat – let’s just pray ‘goat’ isn’t a euphemism;
  2. No, Percy Green! – I might have to track down a copy of this, to see what the hell Percy did;
  3. The Big Man and the Little Mouse hey, it’s not the size of your mouse which matters.
  4. Stop it, Percy Green! – Christ, what’s Percy done now?
  5. Stop, Cried Alex this is genuinely the next book in the series, so I can only assume Percy Green did something unspeakable to poor Alex;
  6. The Donkey went to School Well, it was the 1980’s, and the Village with Three Corners does look pretty ‘rural’, so this should come as no surprise;
  7. Jennifer Yellow-Hat Went Out in the Sunshine followed by Jennifer Went Out in the Dark and then Jennifer Yellow-Hat Went to Town – like all great trilogies, I’ll wager the second installment of ‘Jennifer Went Out’ was the shittest;
  8. Roger, the Stick and the Old Man – I dread to think what went on here *glances down the list, to check for future releases titled ‘Roger Receives Life for Murder’*;
  9. Percy Green and Mr Red Hat’s Car – a tale of juvenile theft/joyriding, or a sinister child-abduction? Perhaps we’ll never know, as the next release was ‘Crash! The Car Hit a Tree’, quickly followed by ‘A Funeral in the Village with Three Corners’ (ok, I made the second one up);
  10. The Old Man and the Wind – standard. Happens to the best of us;
  11. Jennifer in Dark Woods – she’s out again. I hate it when they ruin a perfectly good trilogy with a dubious spin-off. I’m starting to think there was something sinister about Jennifer;
  12. Sita Climbs the Wall – I wonder if Sita was Mexican, and this was a terrifying premonition of Donald Trump’s presidency;
  13. When the School Door Was Shut – they were really dragging the barrel in the later series, weren’t they?
  14. The Big Man, the Witch and the Donkey – a bit ‘specialist’, but each to their own;
  15. The Little Old Man and the Magic Stick – put it away, little old man.
  16. Dancing Ann and the Green-Gruff Grackle – erm…. what?
  17. The King of the Magic Mountains – I suspect the author was on heavy medication by this point;
  18. The Horse that Flew in the Moonlight – yep, she was.

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Anyway, before those of you who didn’t grow up with these books get all judgmental, they formed an important part of my childhood, and helped me learn to read. In hindsight, some of those titles (none of which I remember), may also explain why my own writing can be so obscure, but that’s not for me to say.

Sadly, not only did the series apparently finish at some point in the 1990s (which I initially assumed to be when the author passed away, but it turns out she died in 2014, at the ripe old age of 93), they are no longer available for today’s youth, so I have been denied the opportunity of re-reading them with Ollie and Isaac, as a fond reminder of my own childhood.

Instead, my boys – like many other children around the country – have been subjected to a new gang of delinquents, known as ‘Biff, Chip, and Kipper’ (cue parents developing a Vietnam-style nervous twitch, at the very mention of those names).

Whatever you may think about the ‘One, Two, Three and Away‘ books, at least those children had normal names, and, to this day – despite having read most of the series – I’m still not sure which of Biff, Chip and Kipper is the girl. Not that it matters, necessarily, because the parents should be investigated for giving their children such ridiculous names anyway (I was just relieved to discover ‘Floppy’ is the dog, because no boy needs to go through adolescence with that for a name).

As I was reading one of these books with Isaac last week, slowly losing the will to live as he struggled over the same word he had already read seventeen times, it struck me that this series is no better than the ones we had as kids.

In the end, the more Isaac read, the more concerned I became about the story; so I ended up photographing each page, in order to illustrate the various issues I have with this particular title, which is simply named ‘Spots’….

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  • Why has Kipper surrounded himself with the angriest looking toys I’ve ever seen?
  • What has he done to that bear to make him so mad?
  •  Why is Dad’s ear purple?
  • Why are his sideburns a different colour to the rest of his hair?

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  • Why do Biff and Chip have matching 1970’s jumpsuits on?
  • What kind of shopping list comprises apples, bread, dog food and a doorbell? I can only assume they shop in Aldi;
  • Who buys a ‘terraced houses’ calendar?
  • How does Dad not spend the remainder of the book in hospital, being treated for third-degree burns?

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  • I would be dubious of any doctor who turned up with hypodermic needles sticking out of her fucking handbag;
  • Is that a picture of George Michael on the girl’s wall?
  • What’s the fox grinning at?
  • What have the bear and the cat been up to?

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  • That is one truly awful dressing gown. She looks like a stick of rock. Or a deckchair.

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  • Look how smug Dad is, serving a breakfast of what appears to be hotdog, lentils, and a bottle of lucozade – together with a giant bowl of what I sincerely hope are grapes and not green olives;
  • Does the newspaper say ‘Dagenham Post’? If so, I assume the headline ‘New Disaster Horror’ is all about living in Dagenham;
  • Those sideburns really make me uneasy.

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  • Is the man holding the dog up so it can see over the fence, or has it jumped?
  • What has the man done wrong, for his wife to glare at him like that? (Experience tells us, when he asks her later, the answer will almost certainly be ‘you know‘);
  • Is it because he appears to be staring at Mum’s knickers on the line (assuming they aren’t Dad’s)?
  • Only a moron would hang the bed sheet like that, dragging it across the lawn where Floppy has presumably left lots of ‘treats’ lying around – and I don’t mean that bone.

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  • On behalf of men everywhere, I resent the suggestion we never go to the supermarket, and that, on the rare occasions we do, we try to pay for our weekly shop at the ‘basket’ checkout with a fucking cheque book;
  • In Dad’s defence, what’s the point in sticking the ‘8 items or less, Cash only’ sign half way down the aisle?
  • Is it just me who finds that hammer a bit sinister (and I was right, they do shop in Aldi)?
  • Has he dropped the frozen turkey on yet more grapes? Mum will be shitting through the eye of a needle at this rate;
  • The bloke behind Dad needs to sort his waistline out, particularly if he’s going to insist on wearing double-brown;

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  • How old is that TV?
  • Why is it switched off? Is it because Dad is too lazy to get up and turn it on, or was he watching something mucky before they walked in?
  • Who did Mum’s make-up, Stevie fucking Wonder?

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  • Dad seems pretty pleased about contracting whatever illness the rest of the family had;
  • Someone needs to tell Mum to look in a mirror and sort her face out;
  • This family is terrible at catering for the sick. You want soup when you feel unwell, not chicken, potatoes, and a bottle of wine;
  • Why is Dad’s ear no longer purple? It obviously wasn’t a birthmark at the start of the book, so what happened? Had he slept in some Ribena?

And the book ends there, so clearly no one gives a shit what happens to poor Dad after he gets poorly, and I also resent the fact the moral of the story appears to be ‘men don’t understand how difficult women have it.’

Sexist pigs.

Thanks for reading x

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Rita, Sue and Blog Too

I suspect most of my readers know this by now, but I have two sons: Ollie, who will be nine in May, and Isaac, who turns five a few days earlier. They are both my sons (until genetic testing proves otherwise), but they could not be more different if they tried.

Oh, they certainly have similarities, and most of the traits they do share undoubtedly come from my DNA rather than my wife’s (such as being accident prone, short-tempered, and dashingly good looking, to name but two), but at the same time they could easily be mistaken as coming from different families.

For example, Ollie is very academic, generally quiet and reserved, and his two main passions are reading and football. Isaac, on the other hand, isn’t very fond of reading, hates football, has long hair like a mane, and can be extremely, erm…. challenging at times.

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Ollie is also a very sensitive and emotional child, who gets upset rather too easily (which, again, is typical of my contributed DNA rather than his mother’s), while Isaac only tends to cry when he is denied chocolate (and, if you have been paying attention, you will know that we as a family gave up chocolate for the month of February, to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, so he has spent the last twenty-eight days in as foul a mood as you can possibly imagine).

So, on the whole, our boys are very different, but in the last few weeks they have both reached an important life-milestone (at roughly the same time, if not the same age): they have apparently both got girlfriends at school. Needless to say, my wife and I found this very sweet (then teased them both mercilessly) but they have approached the news in very different ways.

Ollie has vehemently denied that he has a girlfriend, to the point he eventually got very upset and – typically – cried when Isaac made fun of him, but we suspect he is at least keen on one of the girls in his class, because he blushed uncontrollably when we discovered her name. I have since tried to work out which one she is in the playground (so I can warn her that she can do better – joke), but he’s not giving a great deal away, and just tells me to shut up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be horrified if he actually started dating at the age of eight, because not only is that far too young to be in any kind of relationship, but I didn’t get a proper girlfriend until I was eighteen (and she’s now my wife), so the injustice of my son playing the field at half that age is frankly rather depressing.

I am, however, pleased that his opinion of the opposite sex seems to be maturing, because until recently he still considered girls to be in the same league as green vegetables – utterly disgusting. I think it would be quite sweet if, the next time there was a school disco, he got dressed up to impress the ‘other’ half of his class (because there is still a very obvious divide in the playground between the girls and the boys), rather than simply going as Darth Vader, as he has previously. And, in case of any confusion, this is not a metaphor for him being all dark and brooding, as he actually went dressed head-to-toe as Darth Vader. In his words “well, it said ‘dress to impress’, so I did”.

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It’s nice that he is maturing, and I am particularly pleased that he is growing up to be a well-rounded young man – but at the same time there’s no need for him to hurry, and merely accepting/appreciating girls is more than enough progression for now.

Then, we have Isaac.

Isaac is the one I am worried about, because he has already shown an interest in a number of girls in his reception class since he started in September, and I suspect this isn’t solely related to sharing tips on hair styles.

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One of his best friends, a girl from nursery, started school with him, and they have always been inseparable, so when he whispered to my wife recently that he has a girlfriend, we immediately expected it to be her, but it turns out his affections now lie elsewhere.

Again, it wouldn’t be fair of me to mention the girl by name, because I have a number of local followers, and so there is a (slim) chance one or both of her parents could read this, but suffice to say it isn’t a name we had heard him mention until earlier this week, so I have again been on the lookout in the playground to try and spot her.

As with Ollie, my wife and I suspect that this girl has no clue Isaac is keen on her, so when he claims to have a girlfriend, the relationship may be entirely one-sided, but they apparently shared a lovely moment playing with Play-Doh on Monday (as in the children’s modelling clay, rather than an unusually-named classmate), and he has been smitten ever since. Part of me is tempted to tell Ollie, so he can get his revenge for the teasing Isaac gave him a couple of weeks ago, but that would be just as cruel of me; and, besides, I happen to think it’s rather cute.

It has got me thinking about what they will be like when they are older and actually dating, however, and while I suspect Ollie will be very much like me (nervous and uncomfortable around girls until he is much more mature, when he will no doubt settle down at a relatively young age), Isaac is the one I am concerned about.

Isaac, despite only being four, is the one I already worry will be sneaking through a girl’s bedroom window in the dead of night, before being escorted back to our house by a disgruntled father. Isaac will be the one with a number of girls on the go at once (by all accounts, he already has), as ladies swoon over his flowing locks – assuming he keeps them when he is older. Ladies, I am told, like a wild man they think they can tame, and a bad boy who will treat them mean (at first). They like a work in progress. And, despite only being four, that description already suits Isaac rather well.

In truth, I’m a little jealous of him already, because I have never known – nor will I ever know – what it is like to have women fighting over me (unless it’s the elderly variety, who want something reaching from a high shelf in the supermarket), but I have no doubt Isaac will be breaking hearts all over the place when he’s older.

Thanks, as ever, for reading x

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Bloggy Kids

‘THE SCHOOL RUN’

A Short Play

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Dramatis Personae:

‘Daddy’ 

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A tall, good-looking man, who is struggling with the pressures of early middle-age, and who regularly overuses the word ‘fuck’.

‘Ollie’

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An eight-year-old boy, wiry, over-emotional at best.

‘Isaac’

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Ollie’s younger brother, four. A feral wolf child, with the face and hair of a pretty little girl, but the empty black soul of a malevolent demon.

***

Narrator:  The following play is based on real-life events, which occurred in a small town called Sandbach, in January 2019.

 

ACT I

[The lights come up on a Living Room. Daddy enters stage right, wearing nothing but an ill-fitting towel. He is wet, and the impression is that he has just exited the shower. He looks harassed and hurried]

Daddy:  Why are neither of you ready yet?!

Ollie:     I’m ready!

Daddy:  You’re not wearing socks.

Ollie:     Oh, yeah.

Daddy:  And you’re still watching that idiot play FIFA on YouTube. For the final time, turn it off. I said I wanted you both dressed and ready by the time I got out of the shower. Don’t do this to me again!

Isaac:     Do what?

Daddy:   Get me stressed and make us late.

Isaac:     Can I have more cereal?

Daddy:  No. You’ve already had two massive bowls and we don’t have enough time or milk. We’re leaving the house in less than ten minutes and I have no clothes on yet. Do you want me to do the school run in just this towel?

Isaac:      YES!

Daddy:   Shut up. I’m going for a shave, and I want you both ready to walk out of the door by the time I come back downstairs.

Ollie:       Ok.

[Daddy quickly exits stage left, clutching the small towel at his waist to save exposing himself as he takes the stairs three at a time. Both boys remain motionless, with Ollie staring at a laptop screen, and Isaac watching Scooby Doo on the television]

***

 

ACT II

[The lights come back up on the Living Room. Both boys are in exactly the same position as they were at the end of Act I. Daddy rushes in stage left, now wearing a suit, and hurriedly straightening his tie]

 

Daddy:  What the HELL?! Ollie, turn that laptop off NOW. Isaac, turn the television off and find your hairbrush. Ollie, put some fu… put some socks on NOW.

Isaac:      I can’t find my hairbrush.

Daddy:   Get Mummy’s instead then.

Isaac:      Ok, Geoff.

Daddy:   Stop calling me Geoff. Ollie, why are you crying?

Ollie:      You shouted at me.

Daddy:   Do you know why?

Ollie:      No. I’ve not done anything wrong!

Daddy:  Really? How about ignoring me and making us late for school yet again? How about not getting dressed before watching those stupid videos on YouTube? How about leaving your cereal bowl there for Isaac to trip over? We have the same conversation every fu…. We have the same conversation every morning, and, for once, I would like to arrive in the school playground without worrying that I might collapse at any given second. Go and get your bags, brush your teeth, get your shoes and coat on, and wait by the front door. We’re leaving in two minutes.

[Ollie runs off stage left, sniffling loudly. Daddy quickly brushes Isaac’s hair, then struggles with an orange ‘bobble’ as he tries to put it into a ponytail. At one point, when Isaac isn’t looking, he silently screams ‘FUCK!’, then punches the sofa next to him. He rubs his knuckles, evidently in some pain]

Daddy:   Right, that’ll have to do.

Isaac:     Does it look ok?

Daddy:  Sure. Now, go downstairs, put your shoes and coat on, brush your teeth, and wait by the front door.

Isaac:     Ok, Geoff.

[Isaac leaves stage left, followed shortly after by Daddy, who is still rubbing his knuckles]

***

 

ACT III

[The lights come up on an entrance hall and front door. Both boys are now wearing coats. Daddy is putting his shoes on]

 

Daddy:   Right, have you both brushed your teeth?

Boys:      Yes

Daddy:   Both of you?

Boys:      Yes!

Isaac:    Actually, I haven’t.

Daddy:  Do them. Now.

[Isaac dashes to the side of the stage]

Daddy:   Ollie, have you got your swimming kit?

Ollie:      Yes.

Daddy:   And your £1 for swimming?

Ollie:     Yes.

Daddy:  Guitar?

Ollie:      Yes.

Daddy:   Drinks bottle?

Ollie:      Here.

Daddy:    What about the permission slip for your school trip?

Ollie:      Hey, that rhymes!

Daddy:   Shut up. Do you have your permission slip?

Ollie:       It’s in my pocket.

Daddy:    Is there anything else you need?

Ollie:       My Match Attax.

Daddy:  Balls to your Match Attax. Is there anything else you actually need for school?

Ollie:       No. I have my Match Attax anyway, I was just saying.

[Isaac returns from the side of the stage]

Daddy:   Isaac, have you got your school bag?

Isaac:     Yes, Geoff.

Daddy:   I asked you to stop calling me that. Do you have your drinks bottle?

Isaac:     Yes.

Daddy:   Have you both got your snacks for breaktime?

Boys:      Yes!

Daddy:   And do you remember what you’re having for lunch?

Ollie:      Roast chicken dinner!

Daddy:   Correct.

Isaac:     I’m having a packed lunch.

Daddy:   No, you’re not.

Isaac:     I AM!

Daddy:  No, you’re fuc… you’re having chicken dinner, remember? I asked you half an hour ago and you agreed. You said you love chicken dinner.

Isaac:     I hate chicken dinner! I want a packed lunch!

Daddy:   Tough. We’re late, and I haven’t got time. You’re having chicken dinner.

[Isaac now starts to cry]

Daddy:    Please, Isaac, we discussed this. I don’t have time to make a packed lunch. You told me you love chicken dinner. It’s just chicken, potatoes and veg.

[Isaac suddenly stops crying]

Isaac:     Yay! I love chicken dinner!

Daddy:   You little f-

Ollie:      Can we play a game?

Daddy:   What?! No! We need to leave, NOW.

Ollie:      Can we play a game on the way?

Daddy:   No. Look, I have a splitting headache, I’m stressed, and you two have again been no help whatsoever. He’s been up since 5.45am, you’ve both spent the past hour fighting –

Both:      He started it!

Daddy:   – I don’t care. You’ve both spent the past hour fighting, and I’m sick of it. We’re leaving the house and you’re going to have to run because we’re VERY late.

[Ollie opens the front door]

Ollie:      Erm, Daddy….?

Daddy:   What now?

Ollie:       It’s raining.

Daddy:   Oh, for fu….. right, put your hoods up. I’m just going to swap my coat for the waterproof one.

[Daddy quickly changes coats]

Daddy:    Ok, now can we leave?

Ollie:        Hang on. I can’t find my pound.

Isaac:       I don’t have any shoes on. And I need a wee.

[Daddy starts to turn purple, and the stage lights fade to the sound of a scream]

Daddy:     FUUUUU-

THE END

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Nobody Puts Bloggy In A Corner

You may be aware that last week was national ‘anti-bullying week’ (frankly, every week should be anti-bullying week, but I do understand the rationale behind selecting one particular seven-day period to focus everyone’s attention on the issue).

Naturally, head teachers up and down the country dealt with this in different ways; but our boys’ primary school participated in ‘odd socks day’, inviting all the pupils to wear mismatched (and brightly-coloured) socks, as a symbol of unity against bullying, and to celebrate everyone’s individuality.

If you don’t follow my Facebook page (although I suspect the vast majority of those reading this do), you may not be aware that, on ‘odd socks day’, I posted a photograph of my two boys from the knees down, displaying their chosen footwear for the day. Here’s the photo:

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Yes, in true Isaac fashion, he refused to take part; and whilst my wife and I obviously accepted his choice, we were still concerned that he might change his mind once he arrived at school to be greeted by all the other pupils in colourful socks – or, worse (and rather ironically), that he might be teased for being the odd-one-out – so we shoved a spare (mismatched) pair in his bag just in case.

Bullying is an important issue, and whilst the focus tends to be on children during anti-bullying week, this is usually because:

  1. It is best raised early, before any adverse behavioural patterns are formed which might be harder to change in later life;
  2. Children are often less aware of the devastating effects that bullying can have (whether they happen to be the ‘bully’ or the ‘victim’);
  3. Children may be unaware of the various forms bullying can take, and that it needn’t be physical – or even in person – to still have terrible consequences;
  4. If adults think bullying is acceptable, then they are most likely beyond help, and should be sent away to live in a far-off land.

So, in a rare turn of events, the remainder of this week’s entry is aimed towards children, and whilst you adults are naturally invited to read on, I would appreciate it if you could share what follows with your own kids, or any that you happen to know.

Thanks.

***

Hi.

You probably don’t know me, or ever get to read what I write about, but that’s because I tend to be a bit rude and swear a lot. Hopefully, your Mum or Dad (or whichever grown-up has asked you to read this) likes my blog, and finds it funny.

I wanted to talk to you about bullying because, statistically, you will experience bullying at some point in your life (whether directly or indirectly), and it’s an issue which needs addressing. I am by no means an expert, but I have amassed a few readers over the years, and if the message gets through to just a few people, it was worth it. Besides, I was bullied at school, so I know what it’s like, and that’s a pretty good starting point.

Firstly, let’s get one common error out of the way. Bullying is not always physical, and can just as easily (perhaps even more easily) take the form of words rather than punches. You may even have bullied someone yourself in the past – even if you don’t want to admit it – because if you have ever teased someone, and taken the joke too far, that’s bullying.

Look, I like to make people laugh, and sometimes I do that at the expense of others, but I would like to think I know when to stop, and if the person who is the subject of the joke doesn’t find it funny, then that’s not right. I’ve made this mistake myself over the years, and hate to think I might have upset people, but I now try to find humour in other situations – preferably at my own expense, to be on the safe side. Fortunately, I embarrass myself quite a lot, so I’ve usually got plenty of material.

Bullying doesn’t even need to be in person, and that’s the really scary thing, because the internet (which, believe it or not, didn’t exist when I was your age), now makes it so much easier for bullies and – even worse – makes it much harder to detect and stop.

If a child comes home from school with a black eye, or a bloody nose, or a bruised arm, this is a visible sign that hopefully their parent(s) or teacher(s) will ask them about. Ok, it might be down to a simple accident (and my kids are always having accidents), but it could equally be the result of bullying. However, if that same person is being bullied online, or via their phone, it’s not as easy to spot, and that child’s misery may go undetected – or could be mistaken for something else.

I want you to take a second and think about your friends, classmates, siblings, and anyone else you are in contact with each day, and really think if you might have crossed that line at some point. If, like me, you have ever taken a joke too far at someone else’s expense, ridiculed them, or even physically hurt them, there’s still time to apologise and change.

Alternatively, maybe you are the one who has been bullied in the past, or you might even be the victim of bullying right now, and it’s you that I really want to talk to, because you can – and must – do something about it.

I am pleased to say I have never physically bullied anyone, but that is for one very simple reason, and it’s this:

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Just look at me. I’m not exactly physically threatening, am I? And that’s me now. Believe or not, I’m a lot more appealing as an adult than I was as a child/teenager. When I was at primary school, I had over-sized glasses and the hair of a fifty-year-old woman. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this:

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Then, when puberty hit, I developed even worse hair and terrible skin. Being skinny, wearing glasses, having acne, or being socially-awkward, is usually enough for any bully to work with, and I had all four going on at once.

I was an easy target, for most of my teenage years, and I’m just glad I was mentally strong enough to cope, because some days I was utterly miserable at school. It frightens me that not everyone has that inner-strength, and some victims of bullying fail to see a way out. Believe me, there is always a way out, because there is always someone out there willing to listen and help.

My escape was being funny (or, at least, trying to be).

I realised, when I was growing up, that I had a knack for making people laugh, and it gave me a buzz when others found me amusing. I slowly managed to alter people’s perception, so that rather than laughing at me, they laughed with me. Not everyone, obviously, and there were still some of the bigger kids who picked on me, but it only ever resulted in physical violence on a few occasions, so I suppose some people might see that as fortunate, even though psychological bullying can have longer-lasting effects.

Because I wasn’t ever blessed with good looks – some would say I’m still not – not to mention the fact I needed glasses from a young age (and, back then, wearing specs wasn’t as cool as it is today), I never had the distractions of going out lots, or girls, and so I worked hard at school instead.

I didn’t know it at the time, and if you’re in the same situation you may not appreciate it either, but being ‘geeky’ was one of the best things to happen to me. I got really good grades in my GCSEs, and even though I didn’t do as well in my A-levels (thanks, in no small part, to the fact I had been rejected by several girls in my year, and it started to get me down), I still went to a good university, then law school, and now I have a decent job.

Better still, when I was at university, I met a girl who was able to look past the crap hair and glasses (even though she later persuaded me to change both), and she fell in love with me for who I am. We got married in 2004, had our first son in 2010, and our second son in 2014. I still wish my school life had been happier, and perhaps filled with more female attention in the later years (ok, any female attention), but my point is this: everything worked out.

Popularity, sporting achievements, and having a boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t everything, I promise you. If you try to be a good, kind person, things will work out. You will be popular. You will find love. If I can get married, have kids, and enjoy a relatively successful career (I added the word ‘relatively’, because I’m typing this on my lunch break, and it ended about twenty minutes ago), then there is hope for us all.

Each and every one of us is amazing in our own way, and that includes you. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel worthless, or inferior, because it usually only means they are compensating for something missing from their own life.

And, if anyone does make you feel that way, whether their actions take a physical or psychological form, it is absolutely ok to tell someone, and get help. You never need to suffer on your own, and even if you don’t think you can speak to your parents, or teachers, or friends, there are charities like Childline. Their number, if you or anyone you know needs it, is 0800 1111.

Basically, just be you, because you are bloody brilliant.

Thanks for reading x

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The Last BlogScout

A couple of weeks ago, I went camping with Ollie.

Ok, it wasn’t proper camping, and it was only one night, but bearing in mind I am to nature what Stevie Wonder is to clay pigeon shooting, I was still well outside my comfort zone. In fact, there was no comfort in this particular zone whatsoever.

A few months back, the PTA at Ollie’s school announced they would be hosting a ‘Camp Out’ on the school field, and it would be an opportunity for parents and children to sleep in tents, whilst enjoying a BBQ, live music, and all the other delights which camping has to offer (although, at present, those delights elude me).

Stupidly, I made the mistake of asking Ollie whether he was keen, and naturally he thought it was a fantastic idea. I only had myself to blame, as I should know by now that there is very little Ollie will not try at least once – apart from vegetables.

So, even though we owned no camping equipment whatsoever (the last time I slept in a tent was the Leeds Festival in 2000, and the fact I haven’t since – despite the intervening eighteen years – gives you some idea of how ‘fun’ I find sleeping outdoors), I was now committed.

Having carried out some research, and armed with a discount code from Mountain Warehouse, a few weeks ago I purchased a three-man tent, two sleeping bags, a double airbed (with pump), and travel pillows.

My main reason for investing in a three man tent, even though it would only be myself and Ollie sleeping in it, was so I would have extra room (at 6’3”, I need all the space I can get). What I didn’t foresee, was my wife suggesting I can now take both boys camping at some point, but I can assure you that there is a far greater chance of Satan building a snowman.

Anyway, as the event drew near, it became obvious that the weather wasn’t going to be great – and even though some people believe rain adds to the ‘charm’ of camping, I am not one of those people. Look, some people believe in clairvoyants, the healing powers of little crystals, and that the earth is flat – so clearly some people are morons.

Still, having forked out a tidy sum – despite the discount – I wasn’t going to let rain spoil our plans, and even though I am more Paddington Bear than Bear Grylls, I was determined to put my differences with camping aside, for the sake of my rather excited son.

I did, however, begin to worry that I would be the only Dad who struggled erecting his tent, and that other men might judge me. I am sure this was nothing more than paranoia on my part, and they would be more likely to judge me for sniggering every time someone said ‘erect’; but I have always been sensitive about what people think of me, and the fact I am the antithesis of a manly-man often plays on my mind.

I therefore chose to partially erect *snigger* the tent in our living room beforehand, as a trial run. I wasn’t planning on hammering tent pegs into the carpet, obviously, but if I could at least form an idea of how the damn thing assembled, I might minimise the risk of being UselessDad™ throughout the main event.

Except, not only was the tent far too big for the area between our sofas (which really irritated me, as I pride myself on having excellent special awareness; some say it is my best – or only – quality), but I chose the very moment my wife was trying to get Isaac asleep to attempt my erection *still sniggering*, and made too much noise in the process.

After more than half an hour of struggling with a piece of canvas so vast, I had started to wonder whether Mountain Warehouse had sent me a fucking parachute by mistake, I gave up, and reassured myself that I had at least gained an impression of what was required.

However, as is so often the case in these situations, folding the tent back up into the bag from whence it came was damn-near impossible; and even though I had predicted this might be an issue (so I had memorised precisely how it unraveled in the first place),  simply reversing the process did not produce the results I was after. The fucking thing had seemingly doubled in size as soon as it was exposed to air.

I don’t know whether Mountain Warehouse had vacuum-packed my tent, or flattened it with an industrial machine of some description (perhaps a steam roller), but there was not a chance I was going to be able to fold everything back into the same size.

A woman in this situation will patiently unravel the tent again, before methodically repeating the process of re-folding the components over and over, until she has satisfactorily replicated the original factory environment. She will then delicately return the tent to its bag, zip it shut with a triumphant smile, and go about her business.

A manly-man, on the other hand, will bear-hug the tent until all the air has escaped, and it has been adequately squashed back into a package small enough to force into the bag. He will then use his manly arms to yank the zip closed.

Me? I unfolded and refolded the tent at least a dozen times, becoming redder and angrier with every attempt, whilst uttering words no inanimate object should ever be subjected to. Let’s just say, ‘camping’, ‘children’ and ‘countryside’ aren’t the only C-words my tent has encountered.

I did eventually get everything back into the bag, but not without a great deal of effort, some burst blood vessels, more terrible language, and the fear I may have broken something (aside from myself) in the process. Still, everything was packed away – albeit into a bag now straining at the zip – and I resigned myself to ‘winging it’ on the day.

Due to the fact the ‘Camp Out’ started at 4pm (once the main school rush had dispersed), and because I didn’t want to be putting my tent up after everyone else – when they would have nothing better to do than laugh at my inadequacies – I booked the afternoon off work and collected Ollie early.

Whilst we were still one of the last to arrive, I was relieved to discover most had already pitched their tents and were congregating on the playground, rather than pulling up chairs to witness my abject failure as a father.

This was for the best, because when it came to unpacking our tent again (I say ‘unpacking’, but as soon as I forced the zip open, it more or less erupted out, like a volcano of blue canvas), and I had a bit more room to study the components, the assembly was not as I had imagined.

Thankfully, some children were playing football on the other side of the school field, so I sent Ollie to join them, while I commenced shouting and swearing at the tent once more. I was extremely careful not to utter any Grade-A expletives this time, but I did lose it at one point, and hiss through gritted teeth:

“Look, I’m going to insert my pole A into your bracket B in a minute, you piece of shit.”

I’m not proud of it, but I was under pressure to complete – and maintain – my erection in a suitably fast time (if I had a pound…), and the stress got the better of me.

Thankfully, in a moment of clarity, everything suddenly clicked – both metaphorically and, in terms of bracket B (as well as my hip), literally – and by the time Ollie wandered back to see how I was getting on, my massive heap of canvas now slightly resembled a tent. Kiss my arse, Ray Mears.

Utilising Ollie in very much a ‘hold this here, and don’t let go or I’ll scream’ capacity, I managed to secure the tent pegs and complete the remainder of our flimsy shelter for the evening without too much fuss.

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The inner-tent then attached with comparative ease, and despite the pump for our air bed making an embarrassingly high-pitched wheezing sound (which could have easily been mistaken for my christening the tent with an elderly asthmatic prostitute), before long we were fully erect and good to go (sorry, I can’t help it).

Ollie appeared delighted, and even congratulated me with “Well done, Daddy, you can have a nap now” (I need to stop going for a nap every time I achieve something useful around the house), but I decided to celebrate my success with a can of beer instead.

Fortunately, we finished putting the tent up just in time, as the Heavens opened shortly afterwards, which – rather than shelter with me – was Ollie’s signal to go back to playing football.

As the rain got heavier, I tried to shout for him to come back; but he either couldn’t hear me, or had engaged his selective deafness, because he didn’t so much as glance in my direction. Conscious that he only had one change of clothes, which were supposed to be for the following day, I reluctantly left the sanctuary of our tent to drag him back inside.

Whilst he initially refused, once I had carefully explained the situation using words like ‘soaked’, ‘pneumonia’ and ‘bollocking’, he eventually returned to dry out. The fact I was now drenched as well did nothing for my mood, and the final straw was when he stumbled into the tent, kicked my freshly opened can of beer over, and soaked our ‘porch’. Fortunately, the can stayed out of the sleeping quarters, and missed soaking our bags, which was the only thing that saved Ollie from being launched over the nearest hedge.

I have to say, however, once my rage subsided, the remainder of the evening went really well, and the PTA did an amazing job – with a BBQ, music, marshmallows, and games for the kids (including a treasure hunt around the playground).

Ok, I got barely two hours sleep – thanks in no small part to the fact I had purchased a sleeping bag ever-so-slightly too short, and because Ollie somehow managed to sleep like a starfish (despite being in a bag of his own), which resulted in me spending most of the night with his knee embedded in my lower spine – but our first ever camping trip, and my first night in a tent for eighteen years, was a relative success.

I should be ready to do it all again in, oh, another eighteen years or so….

Thanks for reading x

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Blog Boy School

On Tuesday, Isaac started primary school – and, as expected, it could have gone better.

Don’t get me wrong, it could have easily gone much worse (this is Isaac); but compared to some of the little angels at the school gate, who behaved impeccably for their parents – practically skipping into the reception classroom – ours still claimed a podium finish in the ‘sulky little twat’ event.

Admittedly, it’s not like his refusal to accept school came as a shock, since there were plenty of warnings:

  1. He was the same when he went to pre-school (and even, on a few occasions, at nursery – which he loved);
  2. Ollie was the same, when he started reception four years ago. In fact, he not only screamed when my wife dropped him off each morning, he refused to take part in P.E. for months (even, on one occasion, running away and hiding under a desk in an empty classroom). To this day, he still refuses to take his socks off when doing any kind of sport, lest his classmates catch a glimpse of his perfectly ordinary feet;
  3. I was also the same at his age, when I went to primary school (a point my mother has raised on more than one occasion since Tuesday); and, until DNA tests prove otherwise, I assume that Isaac’s genetic make-up is roughly 50% mine.

So, on the basis the male side of our family is comprised solely of wimps, who don’t deal well with change, we really had no reason to believe Isaac would take the transition into primary school education with anything other than a massive fucking tantrum.

Still, ridiculous as it may sound, my wife and I still clung on to the slight possibility he might just ‘pull it out of the bag’ at the last minute.  Of course, the only thing he actually pulled out of the bag at the last minute was his P.E. kit, which was then launched across the room with a banshee-like scream, but this was the least of our worries.

You see, all parents have concerns before their child starts school; but whereas some might panic that their son or daughter will struggle to make friends, or may even get bullied, my three main worries were as follows:

1. Toiletting

The stubborn little bastard won’t go to the toilet. At all.

It’s not that he doesn’t need to go, more that he cannot bare the thought of anyone knowing he is having a wee (including, sometimes, his own parents). He would far sooner give himself stomach ache (and Christ knows what other medical issues), by storing it up all day until home time, than just go to the toilet like any normal child would.

Thankfully, my wife also appears to be part-camel, and he has inherited his strong bladder from her (another Daddy-DNA bullet dodged, since I have the bladder of a particularly-incontinent tea-drinking pensioner), so at least there is only a limited risk of wetting himself.

2. Writing

He writes backwards. This is entirely because he is left-handed, and it is apparently quite normal with left-handed children, but his letters are sometimes so obscure, I did have a niggling concern that his teachers might assume he is a Russian spy;

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That’s his name at the top

3. His hair

I wrote in a recent blog entry about his long hair (https://middlerageddad.com/2018/06/01/blogs-and-girls/), and how much he adores it, but he has recently started worrying about being picked on because of it – and even, the day before starting school, confessed that he was scared the other children might think he is a girl.

Aside from this breaking my heart a little, it also gave me the rather unnatural concern that he may try to prove he is a boy by getting his willy out for all to see. It was a fleeting worry – since he won’t even announce going to the toilet in front of others – but it was a worry nonetheless.

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I also have the rather selfish concern that, for three days a week, I will be doing the morning school run, and I was meant to spend the summer practising doing pony-tails, pig-tails, French plaits etc., but time ran away with me.

What I had not anticipated for his first day, was that it would take nearly an hour of screaming and kicking to even get his underpants on (I should stress that the screaming and kicking was all him), and at one point the thrashing became so violent, I contemplated phoning our local priest.

In the end, my wife patiently went through every pair he owns (and he seemingly has hundreds), in an attempt to calm him down, and somehow succeeded just in time for us to leave the house.

Ok, he refused to wear the school jumper, and would only put on the embroidered polo-shirt if he was allowed to wear a dinosaur t-shirt underneath (which was, incidentally, highly visible), but we chose to pick our battles, and the very fact we got him out of the door with any clothes on at all was frankly a miracle. We even managed a couple of obligatory ‘first day’ photos in the garden, which up until this year have only featured Ollie.

When we got to the playground, I have to admit I could see why it might be daunting for Isaac – or any child – to enter that environment for the first time.

The intake at our school is sixty children, and all of them had at least one, if not both parents with them for their first day; so there were upwards of two-hundred bodies swarming around the classroom door (and that’s not including the children and parents of the neighbouring classrooms, which comprise the ‘Infants’ half of the school).

To pass the time before the bell (and subsequent scene I was expecting Isaac to make), I looked around at all the other parents, to see if I could determine which had experienced the ‘first day’ before with older siblings, and which were newbies. The difference was very obvious.

For example, the newbies often looked more nervous than their children, and some were already emotional at the thought of their little baby going off on their own. Many were uttering the usual phrases, like ‘where has the time gone?’ and ‘it’ll seem so quiet at home now’, between tearful sniffs (hey, I’m not judging, I cried like a little girl at Long Lost Family the other week).

In contrast, the seasoned parents like us (and we only have two kids; some of these idiots with three or more really need to show some self-control), had adopted the same universal expression – which was a mixture of sympathy for the newbies (‘I remember when we were like that’) and sheer fucking glee that the latest/last of our offspring was finally someone else’s responsibility for a large chunk of each weekday.

The difference between the two types of parent was even more obvious when the bell finally went, and the reception teachers came out to collect their new recruits for the academic year.

All the newbie parents squeezed their little darlings tightly one final time, wished them a wonderful first day, and sobbed as they watched them disappear through the door. They then hung around outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of their son or daughter smiling and having fun already, as a form of comfort for their childless journey home.

Some even made a point of talking to the teachers, to try and cram all of their child’s little foibles into one barrage of verbal diarrhoea – as if the teachers haven’t already dealt with every kind of weird child many times before (apart from, perhaps, Isaac). It was as though these parents simply couldn’t bear to leave the playground.

Then, there was the rest of us. The battle-hardened parents with older siblings, who had given up caring some time ago. As one, we simply ushered (in some cases, pushed) our kids towards the teachers, offered a half-hearted ‘you’ll be fine’; ‘have fun’; or ‘don’t fuck this up’ (to our children, not the teachers); then turned and ran with unbridled joy and freedom.

None of us looked back, and we certainly didn’t hang around (in case our particular child did try to escape). Most importantly, we didn’t even make eye-contact with any of the teachers, let alone talk to one of them, in case it slowed down our escape.

Even if we had spoken, it would only have been along the lines of:

“He’s your responsibility now, so you fucking deal with him! You’re only in teaching for the holidays anyway, admit it, so you’re going to damn well earn them this year. Try not to let him break you by 3.15pm on the first day!”

(Then turn and run away, cackling gleefully).

In our case, Isaac immediately clung to us when he noticed other children going through the gate, and had to be physically detached by his favourite teaching assistant from pre-school, who we shall call Mr Shaw (because, well, that’s his name). I doubt Mr Shaw will ever read this, but we owe him our thanks; because he came over, gave Isaac a hug, and then quickly carried him through the gate before he had chance to react.

Thankfully, it transpires the limited amount of concern we had dedicated to Isaac’s first day (compared to when Ollie started, and I couldn’t concentrate at work through worry), was completely unwarranted; because – by all accounts – it had gone about as well as we could have hoped.

As I said at the outset, it was by no means perfect, because he apparently hardly spoke all day, and didn’t seem to make any new friends; but at least we didn’t get a phone call around lunch time asking us to collect him and never bring him back.

When it comes to school collection time, particularly in those first few weeks, you dread being the parent who the teachers come over to for a ‘chat’; because as soon as that happens you know it’s your child who has created an issue. It’s like a walk of shame, only it’s the teacher doing the walking.

In contrast, there is no greater feeling of relief, than when the teacher heads towards you, only to detour or walk past at the last minute. It’s the playground equivalent of your airport transfer bus arriving at a shitty hotel when abroad, then discovering it’s for someone else.

Isaac even seemed relatively enthusiastic about returning the next day (which was something of a relief, because I was due to do the school run on my own) – that is, so long as he could have new shoes for the second day (and every subsequent day thereafter).

See, I told you he’s odd.

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